Fires in Australia: Images of a Capitalist Holocaust

Fire walls over 100 meters high, entire communities evacuated to the coast, smoke-covered cities. Twenty-nine people and about a billion animals dead, 10 million hectares burned. The images and figures of the fires in Australia cross the world like postcards of the depredation generated by the capitalist system. The response in the streets of Australia and the world shows, in turn, the way to overcome this crisis.

The images refer us to an apocalyptic movie. This fire season in Australia is proving to be the most devastating in history. Meanwhile, the government of liberal Scott Morrison continues his climate change denial rhetoric, and his policies in favor of extractive and polluting industries.

The causes of the devastation are rooted in the capitalist system and in the policies of the governments that administer it. Add to this, decades of cuts in public and emergency services, while giving millions in subsidies to contaminating industries: a combination that has unleashed all its fury on Australia.

Climate Change

One of the key elements to understand the current situation is the effects of climate change on this region. According to data from the Australian Meteorology Office, 2019 has been the driest and hottest year ever recorded. Precipitation records were 40% lower than the average for the years 1961-1990, and the temperature was 1.52° C higher. The state of New South Wales in the southeast region of the country, which together with the neighboring state of Victoria concentrates a large part of the population of the island, including the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, is one of the most affected by the fires. There, temperatures recorded in 2019 were 1.95° C higher than the historical average.

These recorded conditions are part of a trend towards a drier and hotter climate in the region, marked by the impact of climate change. One of the natural phenomena that act on the climate in the region is the “Indian Ocean Dipole”, with characteristics similar to the “El Niño” of the Pacific Ocean. It is an oscillation of that ocean´s water temperatures. When the waters of Australia’s northwestern coast cool, droughts on the island get worse. The frequency and magnitude of this event increases with global warming. Simultaneously, a mass of hot air over Antarctica contributed to the situation.

Australia’s production matrix actively contributes to this panorama. Its economy is essentially extractive, more than 60% of its exports are natural resources. Six of the country´s top 30 firms are related to mining and hydrocarbon production. Coal accounts for 15% of export revenues and natural gas production has expanded rapidly, making the country one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters.

It is not surprising, then, that it is one of the main emitters of greenhouse gases per capita in the world. Nor that the current prime minister is famous for having brought a piece of coal the size of a grapefruit to parliament in 2017 to the cry of “this is coal, do not fear it, it is the cheap energy that our companies need to be competitive.” And it is not just the ruling party: the entire Australian regime is based on the “coal consensus”. That is why both liberals and Labor resist the recognition of climate change – or if they do so, it is without proposals for change – and they intend to continue with the same model that has caused the current disaster.

Austerity is Fuel on the Fire

Given this scenario, it is essential to note that austerity policies have further aggravated the situation. As firefighters themselves have reported, there has been a 35% cut in the budget to fight fires in national parks during the Liberal Party´s administration, and a $20 million cut in the rescuers budget. In New South Wales the number of fire engines available to the Rural Fire Service fell from 7,530 in 2010 to 6,288 in 2019.

After strong criticism and in the face of increasing mobilization, the Morrison government announced a package of measures to fight the fire and assist victims, for a total of 2 billion dollars. However, as the comrades of Australian Socialist Alternative denounce, “Morrison’s package of measures is an insult. The $ 2 billion are distributed over two years and represent only a fraction of the annual subsidies enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry.”(1) The latter receive 29 billion annually in subsidies.

In the Streets of Australia and the World

The response of the mass movement in Australia was swift. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the country´s main cities several times. On January 10, 2020 there were massive protests in the main cities called by University Students for Environmental Justice, which were attended by students, workers, native peoples, victims of fires and firefighters.

Despite the attempts of the police and local and national governments, both Liberal and Labor, to deactivate the protest, arguing that it diverted personnel needed to fight the fires, 30 thousand people occupied the streets of Melbourne, 50 thousand people marched on the New South Wales parliament in Sydney, and thousands more in cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth. One of the most heard slogans was the cry of “ScoMo’sGotTogo”.

“ScoMo´sGotTogo” and the System that Burns Us

It is essential to develop the mobilization until Morrison leaves and the state responds to all immediate demands: the provision of all the necessary resources to stop the fires and provide relief to the millions of inhabitants, as well as to the fauna and flora in danger. For this, it is necessary to put an end to all subsidies to corporations and requisition any useful infrastructure to fight fire, recall all military initiatives outside the country and turn all those resources into effective action against the disaster. It is key to establish a strict social control over all procedures to ensure that resources are sufficient and arrive in a timely manner where they should.

Faced with the catastrophe caused by the capitalist system and its governments, revolutionaries fight for an alternative way out to end the corporations of polluting extractivism and fossil fuel dependence, moving forward in a transition towards an eco-socialist model based on social needs and to harmonious development with the environment; a deeply democratic and egalitarian model where the working majorities are the protagonists. This distinct system, socialism, is the only way out against capitalist barbarism.

Luis Meiners